The Alaska School Activities Association is reversing the disqualification of a 17-year-old female swimmer from a race over the fit of her school-issued swimsuit, the Anchorage School District announced Wednesday.
The swimmer’s coach appealed the initial call to the district, as it quickly drew allegations of sexism and recision.
“Following our review of the September 6 disqualification of a Dimond High School swimmer, to include interviews of multiple witnesses, the Anchorage School District has concluded that our swimmer was targeted based solely on how a standard, school-issued uniform happened to fit the shape of her body. We cannot tolerate discrimination of any kind, and certainly not based on body shape. This disqualification was heavy-handed and unnecessary,” the district wrote.
When Breckynn Willis, a multi-time state champion for Dimond High School, got out of the pool after winning the 100 freestyle at a meet Friday, she was told she’d been disqualified because she’d broken a rule about bathing suit modesty — her suit had ridden up in the back, and the official thought it was intentional.
Lauren Langford, a coach at another local high school, called it a “suit wedgie.” Langford wrote a strongly worded, now-viral blog post on Medium.com because she believes that the disqualification happened because Willis is bigger than some of the other girls.
“All of these girls are all wearing suits that are cut the same way,” Langford told the Washington Post. “And the only girl who gets disqualified is a mixed-race girl with rounder, curvier features.”
Additionally, the same referee had embarrassed Willis’ sister, Dreamer Kowatch, by similarly criticizing the fit of her team-issued suit last year.
Langford told the Post that another parent had previously taken a picture of Willis’ backside and circulated it to point out how female swimmers were wearing the team suits.
Anchorage School District takes swift action
The district will return the voided points to the Dimond High School team, and additionally is seeking to revoke the certification of the official who made the call, Jill Blackstone, according to KTUU. The ASAA executive director said the district “believes Blackstone has targeted Willis and her sister, a fellow teammate, in a pattern of unfair enforcement over the past year.”
Additionally, the district wants to suspend and later revise the National Federation of State High School Associations’ suit coverage rule, on which the call may have been based.
In August, the organization released a memo about suit coverage that stated, “females shall wear suits which cover the buttocks and breasts,” and circulated an illustrated example of appropriate attire. The district now says the rule “is ambiguous and allows the potential for bias to influence officials’ decisions.”
In its release, the ASAA told officials to consider where a suit’s fit is intentional, and to assume assume school-issued uniforms are legal.
”It's a commendable start but this is not going to end here if this is all they've got," Breckynn’s mother, Meagan Kowatch, told KTVA. "We're going to end up with a lawsuit. So, we're optimistic that conditions are going to get better but at this point it's just not enough."
She added that she’d like an apology from the ASAA.
"ASAA needs to be held accountable for what happened to [my daughter]," Kowatch said.
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